Networking. It’s not just a profound concept, but it’s a dynamic word. In its root form “network”, it’s first a noun: “My network has grown in size by 50% this year.” “Networking” demonstrates its verb usage: “I plan to spend Wednesday evening networking”. In either incarnation, “networking” defines a powerful business technique that, when taken proper advantage of, can advance your career exponentially. But often, professionals don’t take networking seriously; I have numerous colleagues who avoid it like the flu, seeing networking events as emotionless gatherings where you shake hands with other professionals, exchange business cards, and don’t get around to the follow up.
But if we reframe networking, and as a result become more engaged with managing our networks, it becomes clear that the endeavor is similar to the role of a vineyard manager. So, I invite you to pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in as I give you a better sense of what networking really is through entertaining wine analogies.
Commonalities Build Upon Each Other
Managing a vineyard amounts to much more than just watching grapes grow. A strategic vineyard manager first plants specific vine varieties, chosen not because she prefers to drink Pinot Noir instead of Cabernet, but because the varieties are a good fit with soil type, weather conditions and altitude of the estate (if you want to impress your wine-knowledgeable friends, these considerations collectively are called ‘terroir’). Equating this approach to business networking, we must weigh carefully where we choose to spend our time. If, for example, you’re a vegetarian, perhaps you should pass on attending a dinner networking event centered around enjoying local meats. Since you’re not going to enjoy the topic (or the food), you won’t be able to enter into pleasurable discussions and thus, you may not be able to connect with people deeply. Each relationship we build has the potential of being a robust grapevine or a diseased one. The outcome has more to do with the origins that you might realize.
Getting To Know All About You
The next step for a vineyard manager is to nurture those vines. Understanding how much water the plants need and whether the grapes will grow best with or without abundant direct sunlight are vital to coaxing the best quality of juice from the fruit. To draw a parallel, nurturing your network ultimately equates to providing value to these folks, and begins with understanding each and every relationship. I call it the ‘getting to know you’ part of networking, and it not only makes business fun to engage in, but it functions as a time to plant the seeds that will serve to enrich these relationships in the future.
The third key function of the vineyard manager is the pruning of the vines and the elimination or “dropping” of some inferior, poorly-ripened fruit. If the vines are left to grow untamed, the overall concentration of fruit in the grapes will be diluted. To liken this to networking, we can’t keep endlessly adding contacts to our networks without ‘dropping’ some dead weight. It’s important to have a clear understanding of which relationships we should be laser-focused on, and which should be less prioritized or severed completely.
Effort + Time = Rewards
Ahhhh! The time has finally arrived for the vineyard manager to complete the harvest. She’ll have to pick the grape clusters, sort the berries, crush them, ferment the juices and craft a wine that will one day reward the drinker. In business, this is what I would call leveraging your network. It includes benefits like getting an introduction or winning some sweet business in return for all the care you’ve given to your contacts from day one. But here’s the thing: It takes about six years of growing newly-planted vines until the fruit they yield is physiologically and chemically sound enough to create wine from. That amounts to plenty of money and other resources before we even see bottle #1. The same goes for the organic process of networking. Returns on your time and energy investments are not seen until months or years down the line. The good news is, like with grapevines, as your relationships mature, the rewards become richer and more concentrated. So the next time you see the words “Old Vines” on a wine label, acquire the bottle and toast to all of those valuable network relationships you’re about to build, and the key allies who will emerge.